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Alaska will lift ban on elective medical procedures and allow to-go alcohol, Dunleavy says

Providence Alaska Medical Center hospital, March 31, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday that he will rescind a temporary ban on elective medical procedures as the first step in his plan to restart Alaska’s economy, which has been stalled by measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The governor’s deputy communications director, Jeff Turner, said the text of the new order — and its effective date — will be available Wednesday.

In a separate move announced at the same time, Dunleavy said he will allow curbside pickup of alcohol, including liquor, and allow home delivery of beer and wine with food orders from restaurants.

Earlier this month, the Alaska Alcohol Control Board unanimously approved a system along those lines, but it required the governor’s approval to become effective.

Both decisions are intended to help the state economy.

“This week, starting today, we’re going to start to roll out the ideas, the concepts around how we get back to — as close as possible to — where we once were,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy, accompanied by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink during a media briefing Monday, said the state can allow non-urgent medical procedures to proceed because officials no longer doubt the state has enough protective medical equipment and hospital capacity.

“We’re hoping we’re entering into a period where we can manage this, where Alaska can manage this with the health care system that’s in place,” he said.

The governor said the state will continue widespread testing for the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and if it sees a spike in COVID-19 cases, it may reinstate the ban on elective procedures. If it does not see a spike, it will consider in a few days whether it can take another step toward opening various economic sectors.

“We’re going to watch it very, very carefully. We’re not going to put anything before the … health and welfare of Alaskans,” he said.

Asked what the next step could be, Dunleavy said he was “thinking along the lines of retail.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to Alaska’s economy and reshaped some of the fundamentals of everyday life, including work (remote, reduced, nonexistent), school (which has gone virtual) and social and religious gatherings (with livestreams, conference calls and drive-up congregations). Under a statewide health mandate, only businesses deemed essential have been allowed to remain open. Some businesses have closed — temporarily or permanently — as Alaskans wait to see how the pandemic will play out and wonder how long the disruptions will last.

Brooke McCarty of North Pole was watching the governor’s press conference on Facebook and said she hopes stores are permitted to open soon. Her kids are going through a growth spurt and need new clothes.

“I think the people of our state have done wonderful for how stressful this time has been for so many. This doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach. There is a balance between caring for the health and well being of people, while not destroying the livelihoods of so many at the same time,” she said in a Facebook message.

The governor’s alcohol order temporarily suspends a few state laws. It allows curbside pickup of alcohol from restaurants, breweries, distilleries and retail stores. It also allows customers to order sealed beer and wine alongside food orders for takeout or delivery.

Glen Klinkhart, director of the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, has scheduled an emergency alcohol board meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday to approve rules for the takeout alcohol program.

Dunleavy said his intent is to limit takeout to beer and wine for restaurants and bars linked to restaurants, and “if you’re at home, you can have it delivered.”

The state’s health mandates and other recommendations have been based on general guiding principles, Zink said.

For example, the mixing of populations and travel, as well as close contact among people indoors, generally increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, Zink said. That’s why health officials have encouraged people to wear face coverings, clean surfaces, stay at least 6 feet from other people and frequently wash their hands.

“Those are the general principles we use, everything from like, when do restaurants open, to what does a movie theater look like, to a gym, to a village, to our health care infrastructure — and then, what ways do you have to mitigate that?” Zink said Tuesday. “Can something be done outside, can something be done in delivery form? Can something be done in small groups?”

“What ways can we think about our world differently?” Zink said.

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